What does it mean to localize humanitarian response? How can we practically strengthen and support data skills and workflows at the most local level? Digital transformation is cited as part of our Strategy 2030 – considering and shifting people, culture, the processes, and technology to support our work. We know the tremendous opportunities to enhance our work, to become more effective and to drive new forms of humanitarian action are emerging through the rapid advancement of digital technologies. We also recognise that these advancements bring new challenges, threats and vulnerabilities that will need to be addressed in the coming decade.

Tasked with these questions, we joined the Community-Based Health and First Aid (eCBHFA) Africa workshop to learn more about this major health project and collaborate with their experts. eCBHFA is one of the largest global health programs across IFRC with over 108 million people reached and 7 million trained volunteers. Our host, the Malawi Red Cross Society, welcomed 15 National Society health practitioners, for this regional eCBHFA Train-the-Trainer workshop. We were also fortunate to be joined by Karl John Pedersen, Principal Specialist from DNV GL (a Norwegian Red Cross partner).

malawi quality exercise

Piloting Data literacy with eCBHFA

The main focus of the eCBHFA workshop was on evidence-based behaviour change for health interventions. We piloted data literacy activities with the goal to test the applicability of content and to consider the data literacy curriculum to be embedded into the overall eCBHFA program for future workshops and local training opportunities. The Data Playbook, which was designed with remixable common resources to help support people’s data literacy journeys was our main resource. Fortunately, we also drew on Karl John’s expertise to tailor some of the activities. For this workshop, we adapted four exercises:

  • What is data and why does data literacy matter
  • Exploration on data quality
  • Responsible data monologues (discussions)
  • Data visualization basics

The exercises are meant to be fun and discussion-based to bridge practical sector needs with ‘learn by doing’ considerations. Feedback about the content was helpful. Overall, participants expressed a need to see improvements in their organizations in data management and data protection. They also cited overarching barriers to delivery of ‘data processes’ including digital access, literacy, finances, and resource allocation.

Learning from Malawi Red Cross – Chikwawa branch

Chikwawa visit

We joined different field assessment teams to learn about community level activities of the Malawi Red Cross’ health project and the various data workflows. Roles were reversed as Chikwawa field assessment trip, local branch staff and community members taught us about their needs. We listened and observed community volunteers and branch leads as they explained what matters to them for the various Red Cross interventions (e.g. WASH, Social Inclusion, Disaster Risk Reduction, etc.) As part of the Malawi Red Cross delegation, we met with three different teams to consider – how might we improve data workflows? how can we include local communities in the design, analysis, and overall outcomes?.

While the volunteers all had mobile phones, they were collecting demographic and statistical data manually with a checklist. Then, they analyzed the data and provided a paper report for two different groups – the branch office as well as the regular community council. One participant advised that he did not know what happened with the data after it was collected. However, they have files of data to show changes over time and demonstrate the impact of programs. They also had a wealth of experience and knowledge that provided us with more meaningful understanding. The volunteers advised that other aid agencies are collecting data as well. These groups also report during the local community council meetings. As far as the volunteers were aware, there are no formal, documented data sharing mechanisms or practices between the groups.

Considerations for the future


With so many eCBHFA volunteers and actively trained people, how we can learn and build ‘community level data’ together?
Our observations noted above come as no surprise to our more seasoned humanitarian colleagues. The potential of ‘community level data’ could help us improve our health decision-making, include local communities throughout the process, and, most importantly build trust. If we improve data processes and data literacy, we could improve health information flows and be able to measure results contributing to our overall global goals.

Localization is not just about policy, but more about a way of working better.
When it comes to digital and data activities, the key with ‘implementing as local as possible’ is to consider the lightweight changes we can support that are requested by the local communities. This means that data workflows should include as much ownership and feedback loops as possible. If we are going to localize data, then local Red Cross and Red Crescent branches and community volunteers need to have the tools/mechanisms to support community data workflows implemented with responsible data use. Globally, there needs to be a strong digital and data ready agenda to prepare and support these goals.

[Editor’s note: this blog post was jointly written by Rania Alerksoussi, Heather Leson (IFRC) and Karl John Pedersen (DNV GL). Special thanks for hosting us: Malawi Red Cross, eCBHFA community, and event participants, and IFRC Sr Officer, Health Promotion, Nancy Claxton]

Photo credits:

Photo 1: Data Quality Exercise, ccby 4.0
Photo 2: Visit to Chikwawa, ccby 4.0